The Future of Islamist Movements after the Killing of Qasem Soleimani
We can look at the killing of Qasem Soleimani and his companions from different angles, as he is the symbol of expansion and development of ideological, military, and commercial (smuggling, money laundering, and capital investment) institutions in the region. But the most important angle to consider is what will happen to Islamist movements in the region after his death; will they become weaker or stronger?
The same question was asked after Bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi were killed. Some said that Islamism is not a movement connected to one person and Al-Qaida and ISIS will survive and continue recruiting forces despite losing territories. On the other hand, some believed that the death of key figures in these movements will negatively influence their propaganda and the processes of recruitment and collecting resources. They argue that ‘losing’ weakens these groups and scatters and isolates their fighters just as ‘winning’ makes them stronger.
The logic behind martyrdom stops somewhere
The keyword for Islamists is ‘martyrdom’. They consider ‘martyrdom’ an ethereal phenomenon, but it is not so. No matter how strongly they reinforce the idea of martyrdom and immortality, the fact that the military forces of the United States of America can hunt their enemies with drones and rockets does not disappear. Islamists use the same logic to treat their rivals. Power being divine or evil effectively has no impact on its being ‘power’.
In like manner, as the number of martyrs increases, followers reach the point to ask why the absolutely just and powerful God does not prevent his fighters from being martyred. As long as martyrdom contributes to victory in battlefields, it helps to mobilize people; but the increase in the frequency of deaths leads those who do not want to join the martyrs in their celestial crusade to rethink their decision of enlisting in these groups. Therefore, the deaths of several Islamist commanders and ideologues do these groups no favors.
Dealing with the ISIS and the Islamic Republic, western powers have not fully grasped their logic, and this is what Trump administration is trying to remind them. Using this strategy, Americans severely stood against communism and fascism and prevailed.
Death relishing ideology will not last
People like Qasem Soleimani are not ideologues and thinkers and so, ideology-wise, their deaths won’t harm ideological beliefs; but they raise questions in their supporters’ minds. First of all, a higher number of deaths only hurls ideology into relishing death, which can only attract a small minority, as most of the people seek life and its joys. Therefore, if the opponents of an ideology confront it militarily, it does not necessarily reinforce that ideology; rather, it limits its influence in the long run.
Sanctification does not translate into Political Power
The second type of question is raised when fighters are shareholders of the power of that ideology. Without power, they face no questions and can continue addressing masses from the oppressed or victim’s standpoint. But when they hold a part or all of the power in their hands, their death would not lead to their being martyrs and saints. Even in the case of the third Imam of the Shiites, Imam Hossein, it has been argued that his campaign to Kufa was for gaining political power (See Salehi Najaf Abadi’s The Immortal Martyr).
It is difficult to pass those who are involved in corruption and suppression of people off as martyrs and saints. In the past forty years, despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on shrines and mausoleums, the Islamic Republic has not managed to sanctify even one single soul in the public eye, while the Shiite Muslims were capable of doing so before the Revolution is 1979.
Therefore, it is baseless to fear that the exclusion of powerful terrorists would render them as holy figures, especially when it comes to the authorities of the Islamic Republic. In the past, when people did not hear about the corruption and crimes of strong states, it was easy for people to accept certain figures as saints (as was common practice regarding church authorities), but now it is almost impossible; if the Pope even hit a woman lightly on the back of her hand, its news would be reported from every television channel around the world in a matter of hours.
Sanctification is not Commissioned
The Islamic Republic will have a hard time sanctifying those who have the blood of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Americans, and Iranians on their hands. It takes more than news coverage and constructing shrines to pass somebody as a saint; a certain background, which is absent in Iran today, is necessary for it. Failing at sanctifying different figures makes it difficult to mobilize religious people and therefore, the death of someone like Qasem Soleimani will not only fail at disseminating Islamist ideology, it will also signify its weakness and demise. This is because the struggle between the regime’s authorities and dissidents is not over who is to be sanctified, but who should have power and govern the country’s resources.
Considering sanctity, it was decided that the Shiite sovereignty was a divine bounty from heaven transferred to the Earth on the day the clergies held power in February 1979, and they still rein!
After the death of soldiers and supporters, the authorities of the Islamic Republic have always said that these deaths will make the regime more powerful because they naively think they are still in the same situation they were before holding power. Listeners will not only consider what is said, but also the position from which it is said. As soon as a speaker's position of power is revealed, the effect of what is said goes up in smoke. Reacting to the news of Soleimani and his companions’ death, Khamenei said: “Our friends and our enemies must know that we will continue resistance Jihad with full force and absolute victory is waiting for the Jihadis who resist.” An Iranian supporter or opponent of the regime would define this as an effort to incite the supporters and threaten the opponents, and to do that Khamenei is using worldly rather than divine power. People have been hearing similar speeches for decades; these clichés no longer have any impact. Even for regime supporters, Khamenei’s words mean nothing more than ‘we will have food to eat.’
It depends on how the western powers react
Following the death of Islamist leaders, strengthening or weakening Islamist movements in the region depends solely on how the US and western powers react. With or without their leaders, these movements will continue as long as western powers react as they always do in one of the following four ways: ‘hopefully, it is the cat’ (what most European powers say); ‘they will become normal’ (Obama’s administration); ‘we have serious common grounds with them’ (leftists such as Corbyn and Sanders); ‘we should reinforce the moderate ones’ (Clinton’s administration). But if they try to follow in Trump’s footsteps and respond to their actions, in the short and long run, their ideology and discourse will vanish, as it has no bearing on human happiness and dignity. Obliterating Islamist terrorist leaders signifies Trump’s determination in dealing with this problem in the region.